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Dot’s story: Dance, exercise and fun

James interviews Dot Bremner about the value of exercise
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JAMES: Dot, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
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DOT: Yes, my name is Dot. I live in the north of Scotland. I’m 77 years old, and I love to dance, and I love to walk. I walk two miles each day with my 88-year-old husband.
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JAMES: How did you end up as an exercise instructor?
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DOT: I was asked some years ago by Moray Council, knowing I was a dance teacher, if I would go round some sheltered housing and care groups delivering exercise. Now I’ve danced all my life. I’ve done all sorts of dancing from pole dancing, to line dancing, to tap dancing, ballet dancing.
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But didn’t know anything about exercise. And I felt because I was going to be working with frail elderly people, I owed it to them that I should at least be instructed and so that I wouldn’t do them any harm from a safety aspect. So that was why I went ahead and became a fitness instructor.
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JAMES: And can I ask you very rude question? How old were you when you learned to be an exercise instructor?
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DOT: I had started the course when I was 74, and I finished the course when I was 75. I did the theory all online, but I had to travel 200 miles on quite a number of occasions to do the physical side of the exercise. And then the following year, because I felt I needed a bit more, I went back and did another course on chair-based exercise so that I could been more useful for people in care homes. And I just felt I needed to know a little bit more.
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JAMES: What sort of classes do you deliver?
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DOT: It’s a very difficult one to answer because what I do I call dancercise. My daughter coined the term, I have done Dancercise with Dot emblazoned across my t-shirt, and it’s actually a mixture of dance and exercise. The only thing I really stipulate is that it has to be good fun. It has to be fun and safe. So we do routines like the football hooligans dance, and couch potato highland fling and the seniors hornpipe and the gay grannies and stuff like that. So it’s all geared to fun and very good music that people can relate to.
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JAMES: That does sound very fun. Who comes to your classes?
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DOT: I run a variety of classes for various people. When I go to sheltered housing, they are mainly seated, and they’re regular, if you like. So you get to know them very well. You get to know what their aims are, what they’d like to be able to do, and how best you can help them, what their problems are. But I also go a lot around over-60s groups and I get people who are more mobile and we have great fun. We have some dances where half of the people are sitting, and half of them are standing.
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And I try to make the exercise dances sort of progressive too so that people are moving on, to a different partner, so they get to meet everybody in the room if you like. So it helps with the social aspect of it as well. And it’s just very good fun.
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JAMES: How do you encourage people who might be a bit nervous or reluctant to take up exercise when they’re a bit older?
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DOT: It is difficult, but if they take the first step, which is always the hardest one, then for me, I try to find out if there are any special aims. Would they like to be able to walk up more stairs, or get on and off a bus safely, or in and out of a car or the bath. And we work towards that aim. The other thing I do is to try and include them in everything I do by the types of routines that I do. So I work with people, even people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. They respond very greatly to music, and just to see them joining in and singing along can be very, very emotional.
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So I think its very hard not to become motivated if everybody else is singing, clapping along, you will conform to everyone else. And you’ll suddenly realise you’ve done an hour’s exercise and you haven’t even noticed. So good fun, good fun for the teacher too.
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JAMES: What kind of difference have you seen in people’s lives after they’ve come to your classes?
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DOT: It gives them something to look forward to. It gives them a focal point. It also helps in small ways. People with advanced medical conditions like arthritis who can’t even wash their hair, find that because I do stretching exercises as well as dancing exercises, they now find they’re more flexible. They can actually perhaps wash their hair when they haven’t been able to do that for years. So a small, small improvement sometimes but all adding up to a happier, healthier person. I can’t claim to do any great good, just to say that people enjoy themselves and it’s good for their general health. It’s good in so many ways just to keep moving.
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JAMES: Yes, well it’s great even if people join up just for fun, it’s great if a side effect of that is to keep their independence.
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DOT: Yes, very much so. And that’s one of the aims of what I do. By just keeping them moving, so that they’re more able to take care of themselves. And if they can do that, it’s a win, win, win situation. So not only is it fun and sociable, they’re being allowed to stay in their own homes that much longer, which is just terrific.
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JAMES: And have you ever had a fall?
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DOT: Yes, I did. I did, at a CPD day down beside Edinburgh. I was dancing backwards, wearing their wrong kind of shoes, on a slippery dance floor, and I fell. My feet went one way and my body went the other. I put out my hand to save myself, and I broke my right arm. I was scheduled to go that weekend to do a fit-a-thon in aid of a local charity here. And I had to go because I was sponsored. So I just spend the whole day with a bright pink plaster on, in amongst kickboxers, they had a kickboxing display.
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So what I did was I got all the young kickboxers to come and join in my routine, and we had a marvelous day. I couldn’t move the same as I normally do, but we did it. And it didn’t stop me at all.
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JAMES: And are people who are less able, able to take part in classes? Such as if they’re in a wheelchair or very limited in their movements?
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DOT: Oh, very much so, very much so. Because it’s important, especially for people in wheelchairs or people with zimmers or walking sticks. It’s important that they keep their upper body strong so that they retain their mobility. And many of the exercises I do, like a simple little hand jive, they’re good fun, but they’re exercising all those muscles that you need to keep your upper body strong. So yes, vital I would say.
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JAMES: And if people had any sensory impairments such as with their vision or their hearing, would they be able to take part?
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DOT: Well, I myself am registered as partially sighted and I can only see out of one eye, out of the centre of one eye. So I can only see what I’m looking at directly. And it doesn’t affect me. If you put me in the middle of a dance floor, I would dance, you know, put the music on. I’m also deaf in one ear and wear a hearing aid in the other ear. I’ve no hearing at all without a hearing aid. But again, it doesn’t affect me. I think it’s down to attitude. You try to do the best you can with what you have. And I absolutely love what I’m doing just now. I’ve got the best of all worlds.
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It’s wonderful.
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JAMES: It sounds to me like you would welcome absolutely anyone to your classes.
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DOT: Oh, all shapes, all sizes. I’ve had from babies to 90-year-olds, and they’ve all enjoyed it. I think if you’re enjoying something yourself, people just respond to that. And I’m so lucky still to be able to do it.
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JAMES: It sounds like you bring a bit of fun to everything that you do.
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DOT: Well, I enjoy it. I’m very lucky to be able to do it.
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JAMES: I’m really grateful. And thank you for joining us.
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DOT: Thank you, James And good luck with the new course.
Dot was one of our learners last time we ran Ageing Well: Falls. She has a great enthusiasm for exercise and trained to lead exercise classes for older participants when she herself was in her 70s. We enjoyed hearing her story so much that James interviewed Dot so that we could share her story.
Listen to the audio podcast to hear Dot tell you more about her and her approach.
Note: James conducted the interview by phone. We hope you enjoy it, but if it isn’t clear then please read the transcript below.
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Ageing Well: Why Older People Fall

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